Anyone who knows me know that while I can be negative about the WWE product sometimes, I don’t like to be the guy who piles it on and complains about everything. Occasionally, they’ll surprise me and something that starts out looking like a horrible idea ends up being great (dah dah, dun dun dah dah, dadadadaDA!), but other times, what looks like a good idea on paper ends up being awful in practice. Last night’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view demonstrated both ends of the spectrum with its two main events.First, the surprisingly good: the main event cage match of Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H.
The build-up to this bout was mediocre at best, which is a horrible thing to say about the rubber match in a best-of-three series. Perhaps the most obnoxious thing about the build-up to the bout was that Lesnar and HHH’s feud basically occurred inside a bubble, non-existent to the rest of the “WWE Universe.” Outside of a Lesnar beat-down on the 3 Man Band earlier this month, he has not interacted with anyone outside of Triple H in the past two months of being on television relatively consistently. The same goes for “The Game.”
This lack of build started in the lead-up to Wrestlemania with HHH’s career (which for all intents and purposes was over already) on the line. Maintaining the ability to continue fighting after Mania, HHH apparently would have returned to his cramped COO office if Lesnar had not come calling for a rematch (and subsequently destroyed said office). Since Triple H doesn’t want to fight against anyone else, why did it matter that he was able to continue wrestling? And Lesnar doesn’t appear to care about the WWE Championship (otherwise wouldn’t he have targeted John Cena again after ‘Mania? — but more on that later), only redemption against HHH. So, these two compete in the main event… but no matter who wins, there’s nowhere for either man to turn.
That said, the match itself far exceeded any expectations I had going into it, but with throwing two of the all-time great brawlers into a steel cage match, this probably should not surprise me. The new-look WWE cage was a nice touch, as was a spot where HHH produced a silver-painted sledgehammer that had been hidden inside the cage’s top scaffold. Perhaps the only frustrating part was the interference by Paul Heyman – it WAS a steel cage match, afterall – not because it hurt the match, but because it leaves the opportunity open for the WWE to further continue this feud which should have been dead after the first bout.
Yes, the Wrestlemania match was built around HHH gaining vengeance for Lesnar’s F-5 to his father-in-law, and yes, this match was the “rubber match,” but when the company’s apparent top feud — getting final billing on both the go-home episode of Raw and on the pay-per-view itself — doesn’t affect anyone else in the company but the two parties involved, how can I really be convinced that it holds such weight?
Whether it be that the WWE did not believe in its other matches to sell a pay-per-view or if this storyline will progress further remains to be seen, but continuing to have their “Legends” competing in one-off (or three-off) matches against each other simply isn’t a good long-term strategy.
Meanwhile, the WWE Championship was on the line on the undercard — credit to Twitter for the stat: it’s only the second time in 33 pay-per-views in which John Cena or (in the event of a Cena injury) C.M. Punk has NOT been in a ppv main event. Putting this match second-fiddle to the HHH/Lesnar match looked bad not for Cena (who will never need a “rub”) but for Ryback. In the recent history of the WWE Championship, the only time the title has not been on the line in a main event is when it’s against a secondary challenger. Unfortunately for Ryback, that is exactly what he has become.
Flashback to one year ago: Brock Lesnar returns on the night after Wrestlemania, attacking John Cena. This set up a main event match at Extreme Rules, which itself was in a bubble unaffecting of the rest of the WWE. Meanwhile, CM Punk defended his championship for the second pay-per-view against the returning Chris Jericho, someone who was unlikely to win the title due to his obligations to his band over the upcoming summer, making him a “secondary challenger” despite being the first ever Undisputed Champion.
Ryback repeated suit this year, laying out his ex-friend Cena on the Raw after ‘Mania. It was the beginning of a shift of attitude for Ryback, who insisted that Cena had been the reason for his bad luck of late — allowing him to be attacked by the Shield, distracting him from the WWE title, eliminating him at the Royal Rumble, and overshadowing him with his overall “SuperCena” presence. So, after seven straight pay-per-view losses, Ryback decided it was time to change his luck himself.
Getting to pick his own stipulation, Ryback chose Last Man Standing, a fitting choice given that Cena had recently suffered an Achilles/ankle injury on the WWE’s overseas tour (another moment of “reality” dropped into the WWE’s script). So, the deck was stacked in Ryback’s favor — a scary thought for any Ryback fans who had been following the WWE product for long, John Cena has yet to find odds he cannot overcome eventually. Still, in terms of storyline continuity and marketing, it made sense for Ryback to get the win — if he went bad and still lost, his luck hadn’t changed and he’d have an eight-PPV losing streak that was his own fault, but if he won, he would be back to the monster he was before running into his hard-luck streak after downing the best thing going in WWE (well, according to them, anyways).
Ryback’s fate would be sealed by the order of the matches — it was incredibly unlikely for the WWE title to change hands on the undercard. Still, the match was hard-hitting but did not offer much in terms of story-telling. The two brawlers seemed to be going through the motions as they walked, literally, from station-to-station playing out their planned spots. The match culminated on the stage, where Ryback gave Cena a football-like tackle through the WWE’s LED-lit stage wall. The match had built to the large spot, but the fans chants of “holy sh–” almost immediately changed to “bull sh–” when they realized there would not be a winner — both Ryback and Cena were down, and the referee was calling for paramedics instead of administering a ten count.
Ryback hadn’t lost, but he didn’t win either. His luck had not changed, and he simply was the owner of an eight pay-per-view winless streak. Meanwhile, Cena kept the championship, a trophy which merely asserted the fact that the WWE would tell us whether he owned it or not — he was the best, and no one would ever be on his level. Where the WWE goes from here is likely revealed in the title of its next pay-per-view, Payback, as we’ll likely see a rematch between Ryback and Cena, though who is getting paid back? Cena got to keep his title, and Ryback’s failure was (once again?) his own fault.
There’s a joke about the fans getting paid back for following the WWE down another dead-end storyline, but I’ll leave comedy to the experts. Extreme Rules had high highs and low lows, and they’ll need to show a little more interest in long-term storytelling if they’re going to keep this writer invested in their product.